art, books, Young Adult fiction

The Order of the Twelve Tribes Cover Design Contest!

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Hello all! Starting today, I am opening the contest to design my new covers for the reprint of Volume 1, and then the releases of Volumes 2, 3, and 4!

This contest is open to submissions from graphic artists, painters, photographers — basically any sort of illustrator. I’m afraid I can’t guarantee payment (except in the form of free books), so I’m looking for volunteers interested in supporting my writing and sharing their art.

Here is the present cover (from the first edition). Whoever wins the contest will receive a paperback copy to get the full scope.

As you can tell, fans have been excited about me using my real life muse (his name is Toby), and I would like to maintain his presence in some capacity throughout the series covers.

(If you’d like to request pictures of my cat to work from, you may do so via email.)

Otherwise I am open to suggestions on font, type size, letter arrangement, and such.

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So create some ideas for a redesign, and pass them my way! (My contact info is in the top menu or the sidebar. Just put “cover design contest” in the subject heading.)

Submissions are open until August 15th.

Happy art-ing, moths!

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books, community, reading

Life Hacks for Bookdragons

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So, you are a bookdragon. You take pride in this (as well you should). But after you embark on this life, you realize there are some things that could be problematic — for example, running out of shelf space, losing your bookmarks, or not having the budget to acquire all of the books. Well, today we are here to save your precious little overwraught selves with some tips to quell the quandaries.

How to not run out of shelf space. Having a designated bookcase (a pre-built, independent piece of furniture) is extremely helpful. But, if you collect several new books a year, they’ll fill up pretty quickly. So it may work better for you to have shelves that can be placed on walls (think with nuts and bolts — do consider your safety), possibly expanding upwards or outwards as needed.

Also, think about getting rid of books every now and again to help make space for new acquisitions. I know, I know, to some ears that will be heresy. But honestly, sometimes we just know we’re not going to read a book again, and library sales and charity shops are more than happy to take on well-treated secondhand books.

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Keep things organized. If you tend to have a long TBR or maybe receive a lot of ARCs, take notes when deliveries arrive. Try having a journal detailing the date of when new books came to your home, or of when you need to post the review by. Place sticky notes on or near your bookshelves or calendar, so that you don’t accidentally start reading this August release before finishing that July ARC.

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Do use bookmarks. Some readers don’t, and it’s really a personal preference, but dog-earing pages is just, well, bad. Infrequent readers tend to commit the even more heinous sin of leaving the book out, facedown on the page where they stopped. In the interest of keeping the binding intact for longer, please do not do this. (Some bookdragons will come after you, and they will not be happy.)

Bookmarks are easy to find for sale in bookstores and on websites. Libraries also often give them away. And you can honestly use old grocery lists or receipts as well (my husband uses index cards). Or you can make your own, if you’re craft-inclined.

If your issue is losing bookmarks, sticky notes will help with that. Or bookmarks with clips that attach them directly to the page.

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Don’t underestimate the power of the public library. Money needs to be spent on a million things other than new books. So, if you just don’t have a spare thousand dollars for all those new releases (and who does?), be patient, and within a few months, many of them will be available through your local library. (Don’t forget about inter-library loans as well. If where you live the library is simply the size of a postage stamp, requesting books from bigger libraries nearby is usually pretty easy and free.)

Take advantage of secondhand bookstores, online sales, and entering giveaways. Self-explanatory, really, when it comes to saving money.

Don’t request ARCs. If your problem is too many books waiting to be read, then reduce your future TBR by discontinuing your requests for advance copies of new releases. Many of us are beginning to feel that the cons of ARCs outweigh the benefits.

Limit what’s on your Kindle. If most of your TBR is physical (rather than digital) it’ll be much easier to keep track of, and trimmed to a healthy size.

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books, reading

Discussion: When Do Series Need To Stop?

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So, after having stated that I’m not doing any top 10 Tuesdays — because I’m truly not, I really don’t have the time right now — I’m still seeing other people’s pop up on their blogs (after all, it is — shocker, in case you weren’t aware — Tuesday).

Anyway, the theme for this week is “Series I mean to read but haven’t started yet.” As I checked out some of these posts, I saw a lot of series that are still anticipating further sequels — and in some instances, they’re already at book 4, 5, or 6. So, I thought it might be a good time to discuss this issue — when is it too much, and time for the author to wrap it up and move onto something else?

As the writer of a series myself, I see many benefits to determining ahead of time that I’m going to create a quartet. In my case, it will be 4 books following the major plot thread/main characters in this setting. (And I think “quartet” has a nice sophisticated sound to it.) I took the whole story and broke it into 4 separate parts, and determined a length limit on each individual novel (between 190 and 200 pages), so that someday they’ll all fit nicely into a limited edition box set, and each installment is not too much at once for the reader.

(Okay, maybe I should’ve switched the listing order of those priorities…)

But it’s the truth for many readers — when a series carries on too long (literally, in terms of years of publishing, and/or the length of each new book), we’re more likely to decide not to finish the series. We just get tired of waiting 2 years for the next sequel, or shelling out money for another 650 pages of continually deteriorating plot and character motivations.

And this is the other major problem — when a publisher insists that a series keep going, even when the story feels that it could have reached a natural conclusion one, two, even three books back, the writing begins to feel stale, trite, unnecessary.

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As a writer, this pains me to witness.

It’s the same as when TV shows keep producing episodes, even though the natural flow of the story died off 3, 4, 5 seasons ago. Or when a movie has just too many sequels. And we the readers/viewers, begin to wonder what the point is anymore, and it makes us sad, and even starts to eat away at the enjoyment we used to have for the whole thing.

Just me? No?

There is a huge benefit to declaring when there will be no more books. JK Rowling could have spent her entire career writing nothing other than Harry Potter (based on the money factor alone). But she established that after book 7, she would be done. Maybe a spinoff here or there (like the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts), but otherwise, no. And she has been apparently happy writing adult murder mysteries since then. So, good for her. I loved Harry Potter, and had a bit of a bookdragon hangover when I finished reading Deathly Hallows, but I also knew that Harry’s story had come to a conclusion, and I did respect the author’s choices, so had to suck it up.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I’m beginning to think that Americans in general don’t know when to stop.

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Part of the reason I gave up reading certain genres (I’m staring directly at mysteries and romance here) is the tendency for publishers to encourage authors to write for absolutely as long as the series makes money. Regardless of whether the characters still have life in them. It becomes too tedious to wade through.

I honestly don’t mind a favorite series coming to an end if it makes sense to the plot and character arcs. I’m mature about it. And quite frankly, the rest of us should be, too.

The other thing I’m beyond done with is living writers creating new spinoffs for characters written by authors who have been dead for decades. Seriously, folks, let Sherlock Holmes rest in peace, already! What in the seven hells was the point of adding zombies and sea monsters to the works of Jane Austen?! And really, Hollywood, you can’t come up with anything better than yet another remake?

This trend to “just keep going” makes me wonder if we also have an irrational fear of things ending.

Even one of my major favorites, Warriors, which has released new publications continually for the last several years, seems to be reaching its end. But this incredible world-building has certainly been thoroughly explored, and I feel that things would start to get too repetitive if the authors forced out any more 6-book arcs. So I don’t have an issue with it.

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As I see the advertisements for upcoming releases, I notice just how many of them belong to an established series. And I’m late to the party, and the idea of trying to catch up now is honestly draining.

So for the rest of this year, I think I’ll be hunting out more standalones, more indie authors, more set trilogies and duologies.

I’m sticking to my 4-volume completion of my original series, and then there will be spinoffs — but that’s because there’s a ton more in this world that I want to explore, using different characters, different settings, different time periods.

And that’s the whole crux of the biscuit — the entertainment market keeps pushing the same old, same old at the audience, who is clamoring for something different.

Just a few thoughts.

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books, reading

Top 10 Tuesday: Bookish Things That Make No Sense

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Warning: This will be a whiny post.

1. Putting stickers on covers that don’t easily peel off. This is a minor annoyance to most of the world who enjoys the text between the covers much more than anything else. However, to the devoted book dragon, we know that this is a smear on the art that is the cover of the book. Artists put time and effort and money into making the covers. So the least the stores can do is put on stickers that won’t wreck the art. (Yes, I mean that.)

2. Making sequels a different size than the original. Again, to the general public, this isn’t a big deal. They’ll determine that there was a reason at the printing press why this decision was made, and leave it at that. They may even simply turn the book on its spine (gasp!! the horror!!) to make sure it fits onto their shelf. But, for book dragons, doing this is just asking to make us cry. (Listen up, publishers…)

3. Comparing new titles to older, unrelated publications. “…for fans of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner!” “…the next Harry Potter…” “…if you loved The Lunar Chronicles…” We’ve all seen these claims. It’s nauseating. Sorry, folks, but it is anymore.

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4. Changing covers based on the country of printing. Whyyyy?? Especially when I don’t like the covers printed in my own country?!

5. Summaries on the jacket/back cover that don’t actually describe that story. Haven’t we all finished reading a book and thought, “Well, that wasn’t quite what I expected”? And we do have to wonder what was going on when whoever at the publisher wrote that blurb. Maybe they confused that title with another they’d just completed proofreading?

6. Summaries that give too much away. If I intend to read through the whole story in order to find out what happens at the end, then I don’t need the inside cover spilling the beans before I’ve even hit page 1.

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7. When bookshelves aren’t adjustable. You know how those bookcases are sold in kits, where you can assemble them yourself and determine how high each shelf should be? This is brilliant and perfect, because not all books are the same size. Any company that makes non-adjustable bookcases need book dragons to storm their HR department with a list of demands, er, design improvements.

8. When book merch is unaffordable. I am not sorry for the fact that I simply can’t afford tote bags with quotes, or mugs with character silhouettes. Would I like to own some of these things? Oh, yes. But unless stores drop their prices to something less than my grocery budget for the month, I will remain without.

9. The pricing of books. This is why I get so many new releases from the library. Since spare money is so hard to come by in my life, the thought of wasting it on a title I might not like really sticks in my craw. Aren’t we supposed to be encouraging literacy and learning — and yet, I regularly pass by the new hardcovers in Walmart for $25 and $30. These messages do not jam.

10. American-izing the Queen’s English. When a story is written by a British, Australian, Canadian or South African author, and they write it in their native dialect, leave it that way when you export it to other nations, publishers. Quit encouraging American readers to think that the whole world speaks the way you do. It’s not promoting education or tolerance, and it’s infuriating. (Sorry, but not sorry, there it is.)

Congratulations on making it to the end of the whine! Less mardy next time, I promise!

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blogging, books, Encouragement, reading

Reading Slumps

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What’s a reading slump? Only the most terrible thing in the world, ever, for a bookdragon. And yet, they are inevitable. Every now and again, you’ll realize that you just don’t feel like reading anything.

Your usual styles/authors/subjects just aren’t sparking interest. You feel terribly bored, or let down by a genre, or you simply crave something different, yet every new book you take a look at feels destined to fall flat.

Now that I’ve struck terror into the very depth of your souls…

Here are some ideas on how to get through a reading slump.

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Don’t push yourself too much. If you feel like you should be reading, there’s simply no need to feel that way. A major reason I’ve decided not to do ARCS is because I don’t want to be on a deadline and not inspired to read the work in question. Even as an author, someone who relies on volunteer reviewers getting a critique out in a timely manner, I still totally support bloggers who choose to limit the number of ARCS they include in their schedule.

Try something outside of your usual loves. If you tend to gravitate towards contemporaries, pick up a historical fiction. Not sure if steampunk is your thing? Give it a go. Never read a James Patterson or a Kristin Hannah? It’s what the library is for.

It’s actually okay not to read anything for a bit. Yes, you heard that right. If you go for a few days, or even a few weeks, without finishing that novel on your shelf that you started last year, truly, the world will not end, I promise.

Attempt a re-read. Not sure anymore what happened in book 5 of Harry Potter? Book 3 of Percy Jackson? Do you have Me Before You or A Monster Calls marked as “read it” on your Goodreads account, but you’re honestly not sure if you’re just thinking of the film versions now?

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Now, what about this dreaded prospect?: You’re a book blogger, so putting new content on your site kind of makes it necessary that you read new stuff. Well, in the event of a reading slump, I have you covered there, too.

Find a related topic to discuss. Like a trend in publishing that bugs you — like if there are dystopias everywhere, or road trip novels, but you’d really prefer to see an uptake in pirate stories or new sorts of mythological/legend re-tellings.

If you like to do tags, catch up on a few of those. Or join a weekly theme that doesn’t rely on recently completing a new read. Top 10 Tuesdays are usually good for this, because the theme often relates to books you’ve already finished.

Consider reviewing a book you read a long time ago that you decided not to review before. Maybe because it was a novel outside of your usual genre, or was it a biography, or a collection of poetry? There’s no rule about the type of reading we “have” to be reviewing.

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The most important thing to do is: don’t panic. It really is all right — and probably natural — to hit a reading slump. And it happens for all kinds of reasons — whether your life is busy, or the latest publishing trends just aren’t your thing, or even looking at a towering TBR makes you go, “Meh.”

One day, this will be over. I promise.

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blogging, books, Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

Top 10 Tuesday: Actual Book Dragon Problems

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Back again for the weekly meme! (Hey, I’ve hit a new record — 4 weeks or something?!)

We’ve all seen the hashtag making the rounds on Twitter: #bookdragonproblems, or #bookwormproblems. But what, you may be asking yourself, are the real problems we readers face?

Wonder no more! Today I present you with the official list…

1. Not liking the new releases everybody else is enthralled with. Okay, I may seem to be contradicting myself, since in recent posts, I’ve insisted it’s okay not to like a really popular author/series. But it is honestly really sad when all of your blogging/social media friends are flailing in extreme happiness over a book that for you is just, “…meh.” Trust me, it results in an identity crisis and the sudden disorder of needing to stay up all night reading this exact book under the covers with a flashlight to assuage your guilt. And then you still don’t like it, anyway. Ugh, the torture…

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2. Loving a series until Point X. Translation — you finish the first instalment of a new series and are IN COMPLETE AND UTTER LOVE. You tell everyone you know (even people you don’t like) to read this trilogy/quad/set of totally amazing novels. You buy the merch, you pin a Tweet advertising it, you yell about it in all caps every time you make a new blog post. And then…the 3rd or 4th or 5th book is released, and it RUINS the whole series for you. Either there’s a ridiculous plot twist you don’t agree with one iota, or your favorite character dies suddenly and without justification, or you find out the author in fact supports redecorating the entire Earth with plastic flamingos. And it just makes you throw things and hide behind the curtains and wonder how you can ever show your face in the blogisphere again.

3. Direct sequels not being printed in the same size as the original. This is, quite frankly, an odd decision on the part of publishers. But it happens on a pretty regular basis. And I’m not even talking about hardcover vs. paperback. When you have a bunch of paperbacks from the same series that measure differently, it can wreak havoc on keeping your bookshelves organized. And if that isn’t a tragedy, then I don’t know what is.

4. Cover changes by country. Why do covers have to change depending whether you live in the USA, England, Australia, Germany, France, Japan, or on Neptune? And what if, for example, you like the British cover and you live in the USA, where it isn’t available? ARGH…

5. New editions of your old favorites. See the new Warriors covers below as Exhibit A. White Fang and I LOVE this series, and we’re eager to (read: obsessed with) acquire any new releases. We actually like the new covers for the releases of the boxed sets. BUT it creates quite the conundrum when it comes to making sure there’s enough room on the shelves, and not making the original books feel unloved. (Can you hear that? Does it sound like a tiny fictional cat crying? DON’T PANIC, sweet original illustration, I LOVE YOU MORE THAN ANYTHING. Ahem…)

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6. Typos in printings that were supposedly edited and proofread. Especially when they’ve come from a big-name publisher that has tons of money to throw at these tasks. It is honestly one of my pet peeves, to be happily reading along, and then there’s an obvious mistake that someone (who was being paid to do this) should’ve caught.

7. Simply the cost of books. Since I’m not an e-reader (I prefer having the copy in hand, and being able to better adjust the lighting falling on the text, etc. — plus I don’t even own a Kindle or something right now), I have to try to acquire physical copies of reading material. And have you seen the price of a new hardcover?! Seriously, why is it so high? Are they funding new palaces on Pluto or something?

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8. When the library simply doesn’t have the selections you want. So here I am, trying to be a responsible parent and spend money on diapers and cat food and not on books. My first plan is to contact the library and place as many hold requests as I am allowed between now and 2018. However, the library system is trying to catalogue books in all the different genres, not just my favorites, and they have to spread the budget out a little more. So, it’s just a statistical fact, if there are 10 books on my TBR, the local library will only be able to obtain 5 of them.

9. Wanting to read every new author, title, style in your genre. This makes the conundrums even worse. There’s an awesome-sounding new release that you just can’t afford. Or a sequel that is about to disappoint you in new and shocking ways. Or you never read historical fiction, but one of your preferred authors just published an epic mid-19th-century re-imagining of Puss in Boots as a pirate off the coast of China. And you must read them all now.

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10. When a favorite author is no longer writing. When Terry Pratchett died, I literally cried for 3 days. Me, the half-Vulcan. But he was one of the few NT humans I’ve run across who just understood so much. How he wrote, how he presented his characters, his plots, his points of view made me feel…well, not completely alone in the universe. So, his passing was a bit of a blow, even though I didn’t know him personally.

And although I fully supported JK Rowling’s decision to end Harry Potter and only write for adults now, as I finished the last 50 pages of Deathly Hallows, there was a definite sense of sadness not just because of all the fictional dying, but because of the very real end that was coming in terms of publishing the series. Sometimes it’s a real challenge to pick yourself up and go find a new series or author that will fill that hole in your heart.

And there we have it! Any you’d care to add, fellow readers?

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blogging, books, Encouragement, Fantasy fiction, Mental Health, reading, writing

The Life of a Self-Published Author

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So, I am quickly discovering that writing a novel and getting it ready to print through the company of your choice may be the easy part of being an indie author. (And it’s probably the most enjoyable — most of the time.) After the printing part comes the part where you need to sell several (at least) copies, to help pay for the costs of everything, so that you can justify writing more because, see, your first book sold!

This means marketing and advertising. Are there ways to go about this for free? Thankfully, yes. There are blogs (your own or somebody else’s), social media, and my new personal favorite, becoming a Goodreads author and developing a profile/page there.

Goodreads is an amazing tool. The site is pretty user-friendly (take it from me, who only understands the very basics of how to do things like customize a webpage), and you can do stuff like have discussions with the community, host giveaways (with the minimum amount of work on your part), and connect with other self-published authors. All of this helps build your reader base (if I use the word “fan” here, I’ll start freaking out too much), and spreads the word about your publication(s), and it can be free if you wish.

The instructional section aside… I am beginning to flail a little — both good and bad — with regards to how much effort must go into the marketing part of this whole deal.

First (to get it over with, and give you something to look forward to) the bad: There are moments when doing this all by myself feels rather daunting, and it makes my blood pressure go up, and it’s a bit hard to catch my breath. Sometimes when I look at the list of readers who have added my book to their TBR, I am still shocked, and amazed, and utterly terrified — because what if they don’t like it?! 

That’s a chance any author takes, though — whether they scraped and saved every spare penny for 4 months to get their novel to print, or whether they have a six-figure salary coming from a big-name publisher and plans for book tours established. And, remember, you can’t please all of the people all of the time — so, it’s just a fact that, based on personality or preference for style/genre/how many dragons are in a single book, some readers just won’t care for your work.

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And when you don’t have a signed contract through a big-name publisher, resources will be limited. You may need to be in the employ of something other than “writing” to help keep the literal lights on, which means that time to write/plan/market may be a valuable commodity. Book tours just won’t happen if you can’t even afford a bus ticket to the nearest big city. And if you’re a family man/woman — like I am — there are other things to take care of — school, cooking, cleaning, homework, doctors’ appointments, needing to be home at certain times of the day to let the physical/speech/occupational therapists in.

Before all of this makes you hyperventilate, remember the immortal and so important words of Douglas Adams: DON’T PANIC.

There is always a silver lining. Always another way, it just requires slowing down and breathing and repeating the above phrase a few times.

So, here’s the good of this situation — When you’re a self-published author, you have complete control over the entire venture. Nothing gets edited out of your work that you really, really wanted to keep. Don’t feel like going on tour to St. Louis or Minneapolis or Baltimore right now? Don’t have to. You only interact with the Goodreads folks as much as you choose to. Hosting a giveaway is not essential.

I didn’t even start off with an e-book. (I’m working on it right now, but when I first started the proofreading/typesetting process, I knew tackling two formats at once would be the metaphorical death of me. So I decided to focus on hardcopy to begin with, and just wait for the digital stuff.)

The important thing is to recognize your limits, and not take on too much.

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Otherwise, it is an extremely satisfying thing to bring up at dinner parties — “Yes, actually, I wrote a book. I’m a self-published author.” Self-published — meaning your literal sweat and tears (and maybe blood?) went into creating this actual physical thing (in traditional or e-book form) that people can read and share. It’s like having climbed all of the mountains in the Adirondacks, or graduated from a Masters degree, or raised multiple children — it’s quite an achievement. Be proud of it. You earned it.

(By the way, I’m giving myself a lot of this same advice.)

So, as I go back to working on Volume 2, nervously awaiting the feedback on Volume 1, getting the digital copy together, and reciting DON’T PANIC like a mantra, I’ll also do my best to remember that this is just the start of something I’ve been waiting a very long time for.

Sure, there were bumps in the road. But I survived. Honestly, I still can’t quite believe it. But now that cool things are happening in spite of the negatives…well, believing it may become easier.

There’s still a lot to do; but also so much that I have now completed.

And that is certainly worth celebrating.

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